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Source: Live Strong
Exercise-based physical therapy can be highly beneficial for children with autism, according to a study published in the journal “Physiotherapy Canada” in 2008. The study concluded that a variety of physical therapy exercises led to a short-term reduction in stereotypical autistic behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder. Discuss physical therapy with your child’s doctor and case manager. They can give you professional advice specific to your child’s situation.
Autistic spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that causes children to behave in odd and often disturbing ways in reaction to surroundings. Autism is fairly common; according to 2010 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 110 children in the United States is diagnosed with some form of autism. Various treatments have been seen to help diminish behaviors associated with autism, including physical therapy involving strenuous exercise.
Autism and Exercise
Research has found that vigorous physical activity can be a highly effective form of autism treatment. One such study, published in 1982 in the “Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,” found that jogging sessions resulted in a decrease in self-stimulatory behaviors and led to an increase in suitable play and academic responding. One theory regarding why exercise diminishes this type of behavior is that structured routines and repetitive activity, such as running and swimming, are similar to the repetitive behaviors associated with autism. Structured exercise routines serve as constructive forms of replacement behavior.
Equine therapy, or hippotherapy, is typically part of a larger program that involves therapeutic horseback riding. Equine therapy has been particularly helpful for autistic children; the multidimensional rhythmic movement of a horse closely mirrors the gait of human walking. An autistic child generally won’t use a saddle during hippotherapy, explained the Aspen Education Group on its website. Riding without a saddle allows a child to better experience the horse’s movements. The rider becomes aware of where the body is in relation to the horse. Equine therapy can help improve an autistic child’s sense of his own body in space.
Another form of physical therapy exercise commonly used to treat autism is aquatic therapy, which generally takes place in a swimming pool. The pressure of warm water pressing against the body can soothe an autistic child. Water can provide a calming form of sensory input while the child performs exercises designed to improve range of motion and overall mobility. Recreational therapist Laurie Jake points out that warm water reduces body weight by 90 percent, decreases the force of impact on the body, relaxes muscles and reduces spasticity, making water “the ideal medium in which to exercise or rehabilitate the body.”